OBITUARY | The death of Thasleem Ibrahim leaves a big void in the NGO sector. It also takes away a luminary from the much smaller world of the true sons of our soil and Malaysian patriots willing to act according to their conscience and to stand up for justice, a better country and the rights of the marginalised and oppressed - not simply in words but also in deed.
A man of strong values, Thasleem's record of compassion, charity and activism is unique amongst Malaysians.
Eschewing the fanfare which good Samaritans and benefactors often look for, he has quietly funded studies for over 60 hafiz (Quran memorisers) in the last 20 years. He has also adopted Tamil schools since 1995 with more than 15,000 children benefitting from his financial support; and, in his own home, he and his wife have been adoptive parents to 16 children from various backgrounds - Hindus, Christians, Malays, and Indian Muslims.
Few Malaysians can match him in his humanitarianism and his personal mission to share his worldly acquisitions with those less fortunate.
Two personal traits of Thasleem stand out for me during the time that he and his National Indian Rights Action (Niat) and Jihad for Justice groupings worked with the Centre for Policy Initiatives and Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia on the controversial educational issues of the day from 2008 to 2014 before he was compelled to take a less active role due to ill health.
The first is that while Thasleem took his religious faith and values seriously and tried to live them in his activist work, he never saw the need to draw attention to his commitment to Islam or to talk much about the beauty or wisdom of the religion. On the contrary, what roused his anger and his response - often articulated in public rebuke - were extremists and hypocrites making use of Islam and those peddling the ideology of religious dominance.
The second was his fearlessness in taking up politically incorrect and unpopular issues which he really had no stake in. Thasleem was a retired businessman, not a historian, academic or educationist. But his concern was for truth, good sense and sensibleness to prevail.
In the campaign against the use of ‘Interlok’ as a school text and on the need for a true Malaysian history to be taught to our young population, he openly criticised the motives and dishonest educational values of the ruling politicians and their apparatchik which had necessitated the reform movement he helped to lead.
Thasleem has left those of us who aspire to a better Malaysia too early. He would have wanted more time. But he was also always fully aware that the torch burning for justice and truth is only faintly lit and is easily extinguished should patriotic and level-headed Malaysians remain silent and do nothing or remain on the sideline.
This is especially true for the case of marginalised Tamils and Indians whose welfare and cause he was most committed to, and where he was concerned with the little progress achieved.
The best way to honour his memory is for the activists in the community to do away with the infighting and deep divisions that have plagued their work and to come together to continue the struggle for the downtrodden, exploited and subjugated among them and in the other communities.
LIM TECK GHEE is a retired academician and currently public policy analyst.